This Man Ain’t Nobody’s Teacup: Will Graham as the Author in/of Hannibal’s Finale

I’m supposed to be writing like 497 things right now, so of course, my brain chose to get hung up on some Hannibal finale meta instead: meta that centers on that lovely, cunning boy, Will Graham. 

Hannibal‘s finale aired over a week ago and yet I, like 99% of the show’s fandom, am still not over this moment:

hand on the glass

Will: You turned yourself in so I’d always know where you were. But you’d only do that if I rejected you. [beat] Goodbye.

Yes, part of the appeal is that Will’s hand on the glass and the revelation that accompanies it makes mutual Hannigram canon (hurray!). But for my money, this moment matters to the series’ narrative writ large because it reboots our perception of Will: it reminds us (and Lecter) that Will Graham is nobody’s teacup–he’s become a damn sledgehammer.

Let me explain.

One thing that was bugging me about the flipside of season 3 was Will’s retreat to domestic life. Certainly, Will leaving the FBI made sense: they did try to institutionalize him for life, among other sins. I even bought him leaving his beloved Wolf Trap, because how many times can your home be violated by crime scene investigators, your epicurious psychiatrist, a murderous dude who thinks he’s a wolfbear, your asshole boss, a fellow patient of said psychiatrist who wants you to get her pregnant, and Frederick-freaking-Chilton covered in someone else’s blood before you seriously consider relocating?

dude really chilton

Right.

However, given how much emotional energy we’d seen Will invest during the first half of S3 in coming to terms with his feelings for Lecter–and the screen time devoted to those mental gymnastics–it seemed strange that Will had been able to pack that part of himself away so completely. As a character, Will had evolved tremendously since he lay shattered on Hannibal’s kitchen floor, and the series had made a point of showing us just how messy that I-forgive-you-but-still-want-to-stab-you evolution had been for him.

Even with the abrupt three-year time jump, then, I found it hard to believe that he’d been able to let all of that go. As much as I loved the way that their marriage was portrayed, the Will we saw with Molly felt like a step backwards in terms of character development, a Will whose edges had been honed so that he’d fit into Fuller’s vision of the Red Dragon’s tale.

Yeah, I didn’t buy it.

But with this move, in this scene, Will tossed all of that into the air and what settled at his feet, into the cracks on Lecter’s face, was much, much more interesting.

hand on the glass
[Click on the image for a vid of this sequence]

Reading the Dragon cycle back from this moment, with the knowledge of Will’s excellent duplicity, suggests that the Will we’d been seeing had been a performance. That is, Will had been playing the role of “Will Graham,” had been acting like the puppy-loving, emotionally vulnerable, in need of hugs Will that his audience–both diagetic and extratextual–expected. As a character, then, Will hadn’t taken a step backwards; he’d taken a conscious step to the side. Put himself in a holding pattern, as it were. At the very least, Will knows that, eventually, he’ll need Hannibal again; at worst, I think he’s aware that once he’s reunited with Lecter, any life that Will’s created without him, no matter how fulfilling, will inevitably have to be shed.

Essentially, for six episodes, we’d been watching the Will of “after you” pretending to be the Will of “before you,” and oh, how beautifully this revelation complicates what’s come before.

For example, consider Lecter’s surrender at the end of 3.7, “Digestivo”:

Will: He’s gone, Jack.
Hannibal: [emerging from behind Will’s house] Jack. I’m here.

Hannibal-surrenders-3x07-Digestivo.bmp

Hannibal: You finally caught the Chesapeake Ripper, Jack.
Jack: We didn’t catch you. You surrendered.
Hannibal: [to Will] I want you to know exactly where I am. And where you can always find me.
[Will turns away, silent, and goes back inside]

In its original context, the power dynamic in this scene leans firmly in Hannibal’s direction: once again, the maestro has subverted everyone else’s authority and written his own final act. As Jack says, the Ripper wasn’t caught, he turned himself in, in what Lecter believes is a grand romantic gesture of his own design. His love for Will may be unrequited, Hannibal figures, but his beloved will always know where he is.

Will’s hand-to-glass declaration in “Wrath of the Lamb,” however, turns that dynamic on its head. Consider the scene again:

i want you to knowwhere you can always find mewill wtf

Reading this sequence with knowledge of Will’s careful manipulation underscores his mastery of Lecter. Now, the pride that Hannibal takes in his ability to subvert Will’s desire–namely, to push Hannibal out of his life for good–reads as comically misplaced. Rather, here, the plans that Will put into motion in the middle of season 2 have been realized: Lecter is caged, the Ripper is dead, and Will’s the author of it all. (And don’t get me started on the man putting his glasses back on.)

While Will knew mid-season 2 that Hannibal cared for him–“He wants to be my friend”–and recognized that affection as a weapon, this Will, the one watching Lecter kneel at his feet, knows that he cares for Hannibal, too. This is what gives Will the upper hand: unlike Hannibal, he’s aware that those feelings–that love, however beautiful and strange–runs both ways. It’s a weapon without a handle, their relationship, one that can always only wound them both, and as Will’s mike drop in “Wrath” makes clear, here, he’s the one who’s learned how to wield it.

What chance could even Hannibal Lecter have against that?

Further, reconsider Will’s seemingly clueless question to Bedelia in 3.12, “The Number of the Beast is 666”–

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While the immediate fan reaction to this question was unbridled incredulity (because come on, Twitter screamed, is Will really that blind? Turns out: nope!), reviewing this scene in light of Will’s mike drop highlights just what a bastard our cunning boy can be.

See, Will knows that Bedelia, for whatever reason, desires Hannibal’s affection. She took Will’s place in Florence, in essence, sharing Hannibal’s bed and being complicit in his crimes, and she seems to think she understands Lecter–and Will–better than they do themselves. In her tete-a-tetes with Will, DuMaurier appears to take pleasure in explaining Hannibal to him, in showing off the intimate knowledge she’s gained of the man they both (in their own unique way) love. She’s lording it over him, basically, the intimacy she’s had with Hannibal, in her cool and interminable way.

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However, look at their interactions encore in the context of 3.13. Now, Will’s behavior reads as taunting, as well-timed jabs at the weak points in Bedelia’s beautiful armor. His question isn’t clueless, it’s tactical: a means of goading Bedelia into spelling out exactly how Hannibal feels about him–how much he loves Will, and yearns for him, and man, did Hannibal ever shut up about that in Florence? Geez.–a move that is, to steal Chilton’s term, “quantifiable bitchy.” It’s a way for Will to twist a knife that Bedelia doesn’t even know that he’s holding.

Bedelia’s not harboring any illusions about her relative position in Hannibal’s heart. Sure, she’d rather “be the last” of Hannibal’s wives, as it were, but she knows that she’s not; in light of “Wrath,” doesn’t it look like Will enjoys playing with his food reminding her of that fact?

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So yes, Will’s hand-to-the-glass is a goldmine in terms of slash, for which both my dirty shipper heart and my fan studies brain are grateful. However, for me, this moment is significant in the broader context of the series because it forever shatters our illusions–and fulfills every one of Hannibal’s–about what Will is capable of, about the kind of man that he’s finally become.

Look, in the first half of season 3, Hannibal displays a hyper-, if not meta-awareness, of his life as a [romance] text and of himself as its ultimate author–an awareness that seem to culminate with [what he thinks is] his decision to kneel at Will’s feet in “Digestivo.”

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Oh hon.

Will’s revelation in “Wrath,” however, forces the viewer–and Lecter–to revise those conclusions.  “Fate,” as Hannibal says, “has a way of not letting us choose our own endings,” and, oh, how right he was. As this moment suggests–and the final shots of the series solidify–Will is the author now, the one writing the final script, and in the last moments, Hannibal appears to exult in Will’s ultimate exercise of authority.

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The series, then, may be called Hannibal, but in the end, the story, like Hannibal Lecter, belongs to Will Graham.

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6 thoughts on “This Man Ain’t Nobody’s Teacup: Will Graham as the Author in/of Hannibal’s Finale

  1. marie r.

    Wow! This is very interesting and insightful commentary! I enjoyed reading it immensely. Also, Hannibal was such a fantastic tv show!!!! Absolutely nothing like it.

  2. Will is the author, in the sense that he carries out his plan to “kill them all”. But I think it’s incorrect to say everything leading up to it was a “performance”. Who is he performing for when he pretends to like dogs? No, Will actually like dogs, and adopts the one which previously belonged to the Leeds. I didn’t see him as manipulating Bedelia with that question either. She doesn’t act there like she’s reluctantly admitting something with a knife twisted in her. Her response is really just expanding on the taunts she’d thrown his way earlier.

    Part of my view is colored by knowing that Hugh suggested the “mic drop” speech late in production. His performance in Digestivo comes across as genuine, as with Bedelia. He could after-the-fact tell Hannibal all has worked out as if he planned it (in a manner that does come off as taunting), which doesn’t mean he expected that before the fact.

    1. Cheers for reading and for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful response. Although I suspect we’ll have to agree to disagree at some level, I did want to respond to some of your points in kind.

      >Who is he performing for when he pretends to like dogs? No, Will actually like dogs, and adopts the one which previously belonged to the Leeds.

      I appreciate what you’re saying here. A commenter on tumblr nailed this issue for me: they pointed out that reading good!Will or dark!Will is too easy, and that Will is instead always already gray. So he can love dogs (which I agree is a genuine instinct with him) AND be a clever, manipulative bastard. Perhaps that’s a more useful way of looking at his time with Molly: a period in which he was learning how to negotiate the gray in Hannibal’s absence. His evolution (as I see it, anyway) isn’t as simple as I may have suggested here–it’s not hopping cleanly from A to B; rather, it’s a process, and one that we don’t get to see because of that three year gap. In some ways, by the end of the series, Will’s ultimately more of an enigma (as the commenter below points out) than is Hannibal. Which is kind of amazing, when you think about it.

      FWIW, I don’t see “performance” as inherently false. Rather, I think Will is always conscious of how he’s being read, even before shit goes down in “Digestivo.” For me, the second half of S3 suggests that he’s just gotten WAY better at using that to his advantage than he has been in the past.

      >Part of my view is colored by knowing that Hugh suggested the “mic drop” speech late in production.

      Fair enough–I did choose to ignore that fact and just look at the text itself.

      >He could after-the-fact tell Hannibal all has worked out as if he planned it (in a manner that does come off as taunting), which doesn’t mean he expected that before the fact.

      Also true. The beauty of this text–and of the performances it contains–is that it’s deep enough, and rich enough, to support both readings.

  3. Ashra

    I really love this meta, thank you so much for writing it! I do to some extent agree with the previous poster that Will manipulating the situation doesn’t read entirely true for me, although I could well believe that he would want Hannibal to believe that. But to be honest Will’s actions in Digestivo never made much sense to me anyway-he’s been pursuing Hannibal all over Europe for the past few months and initially at least seems thrilled to bits to be reunited with him in the previous episode. Now I know that there was all that stuff with Hannibal trying to eat his brain, but frankly, if Will can forgive him for murdering Abigail, I would have thought anything else would be a cake walk, plus Hannibal had just saved his life and carried him for miles through the snow, which you think would get him some brownie points. It just seems a very sudden turn around for me. If Will was manipulating Hannibal into surrendering, it does make a bit more sense, but given his feelings towards Hannibal, if he felt he was going to need him again, his action in marrying Molly while being in love with someone else comes off as quite callous. I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Sorry for rambling-I’m in absolute agreement with you that he was winding Bedelia up, he really doesn’t like her 🙂

    Your line about their relationship being a weapon without a handle is beautiful, and may have made me tear up a little *sniff*

    1. Thank you for reading, and for your kind comments!

      In re: your response–

      >But to be honest Will’s actions in Digestivo never made much sense to me anyway-he’s been pursuing Hannibal all over Europe for the past few months and initially at least seems thrilled to bits to be reunited with him in the previous episode

      Yes! I agree. I’d never thought about in those terms, but you’re on to something. Admittedly, almost getting your brain eaten and your face cut off will complicate things a bit, but still. There seems to be a beat missing in that ep (a fantastic fanfiction gap, if you will)–in part because we see more of what happens to Hannibal “Digestivo,” more than we see what’s happening to Will. And then there’s the whole question of what happened after Hannibal got Will home and cleaned him up and tucked him into bed, and–well. That’s a long way of saying: I think you’re right.

      > his action in marrying Molly while being in love with someone else comes off as quite callous

      See my response to the comment above re: gray!Will. In my heart of hearts, I’d like to think he wasn’t consciously thinking “hey, I’ll marry this amazing woman and bond with her kid knowing that I’ll leave them for my serial killer boyfriend.” But I do think that somewhere, in the back of his mind, Will knew he’d be tugged back to Hannibal again, someday. Maybe he thought he’d learn how to resist it? Maybe he didn’t know how affected he’d be to see Hannibal again? I don’t know.

      >I’m in absolute agreement with you that he was winding Bedelia up, he really doesn’t like her

      I’ve been rewatching 3.1 for another project I’m working on, and it’s given me a new level of sympathy for Bedelia. The whole time she’s with Hanni, she knows that he really wants Will there instead; as a friend of mine put it, “she knows Will will always be Daddy’s favorite.” So I don’t blame her for poking Will back when she had the chance.

      >Your line about their relationship being a weapon without a handle is beautiful, and may have made me tear up a little *sniff*

      : ) Thank you!

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